Short communication: A splice site mutation in CENPU is associated with recessive embryonic lethality in Holstein cattle

J Dairy Sci. 2020 Jan;103(1):607-612. doi: 10.3168/jds.2019-17056. Epub 2019 Nov 14.


A genome scan for homozygous haplotype deficiency coupled with whole-genome sequence data analysis is a very effective method to identify embryonic lethal mutations in cattle. Among other factors, the power of the approach depends on the availability of a greater amount of genotyping and sequencing data. In the present study, we analyzed the largest known panel of Illumina BovineSNP50 (Illumina Inc., San Diego, CA) genotypes, comprising 401,896 Holstein animals, and we report the mapping of a new embryonic lethal haplotype on chromosome 27, called HH7. We fine mapped the locus in a 2.0-Mb interval using an identical-by-descent approach and analyzed genome sequence data from 4 carrier and 143 noncarrier Holstein bulls to identify the causative mutation. We detected a strong candidate variant in the gene encoding centromere protein U (CENPU), a centromere component essential for proper chromosome segregation during mitosis. The mutant allele is a deletion of 4 nucleotides located at position +3 to +6 bp after the splicing donor site of exon 11. Cross-species nucleotide alignment revealed that the nucleotide at position +3 is entirely conserved among vertebrates, suggesting that it plays an important role in the regulation of CENPU splicing. For verification, we genotyped the candidate variant in 232,775 Holstein individuals and did not observe any homozygotes, whereas 16 were expected (Poisson P-value = 1.1 × 10-7; allele frequency = 0.8%). In addition, genotyping of 250,602 animals from 19 additional breeds revealed that the mutant allele is restricted to animals of Holstein descent. Finally, we estimated the effect of the candidate variant on 2 fertility traits in at-risk mating (i.e., between carrier bulls and daughters of carrier bulls) versus non-risk mating. In agreement with a recessive lethal inheritance pattern, we observed a marked reduction in both conception rate and 56-d nonreturn rate in heifers and cows. The effect on 56-d nonreturn rate suggests that a substantial proportion of homozygous mutants die before 35 d after insemination, which is consistent with the early embryonic death previously reported in CENPU-/- mouse embryos. In conclusion, we demonstrate that with more than 400,000 genotypes, we can map very rare recessive lethal mutations segregating at a frequency below 1% in the population. We recommend performing new analyses regularly as data are accumulating.

Keywords: CENPU; Holstein; embryonic lethal; homozygous haplotype deficiency; large-scale genotyping.

MeSH terms

  • Alleles
  • Animals
  • Cattle
  • Centromere / genetics*
  • Embryo Loss / genetics
  • Embryo Loss / veterinary*
  • Female
  • Fertility / genetics
  • Fertilization
  • Genotype
  • Haplotypes
  • Histones / genetics*
  • Homozygote
  • Mutation*
  • Phenotype
  • RNA Splice Sites / genetics*


  • Histones
  • RNA Splice Sites